What If: Signing Damon in 2002

PeteAbe profiles Girardi's evolving approach
Kevin Goldstein's Top 11 Yankees prospects

While slogging my way through the grit-inspired book authored by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, I came across an interesting two paragraphs on a move in 2002 that could have change Yankee history. While the Yankee Front Office signed Rondell White to a forgettable two-year, $5-million contract, new Yankee Jason Giambi and then-manager Torre wanted to sign a different player to fill the left field gap.

“The one I was interested in,” Torre said, “was Johnny Damon.” Verducci eleaborates on page 170:

As the Yankees were wrapping up the Giambi negotiations, Giambi lobbied the Yankees to sign his buddy Damon to play left field. The Yankees decided they had a better idea; they signed Rondell White for $10 million over two years, leaving Damon to sign four days later with the Red Sox for $31 million over four years.

“Giambi tried to talk them into signing me,” Damon said. “Rondell beat me to the punch. I heard there was one person who didn’t want me there.” Damon declined to identify the person with the Yankees who did not want him.”

While it’s easy to chalk this one up to revisionist Joe Torre history, from the sound of it, Ddamon would have come to New York, and some members of the organization wanted him. Why they never signed him in 2002 will long remain a mystery, but it certainly had a lasting impact on Yankee history.

Had the Yanks signed Damon, he wouldn’t have been on the 2004 Red Sox, and the odds are good that the Yanks wouldn’t have even been in a position to blow a 3-0 lead. That they went with White over Damon probably stands as one of the bigger, if lesser known, mistakes of the last decade.

PeteAbe profiles Girardi's evolving approach
Kevin Goldstein's Top 11 Yankees prospects
  • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt


    • Yankee Hater

      They still would have blown the 3-0… They CHOKED!!!!!

  • mko

    In hindsight, signing Damon would have been the much better decision of course. But comparing the stats of the two, it seemed like the better decision at the time, don’t you think?


    • andrew

      White had certainly been producing at a pretty consistent level for a couple years, can’t really fault their logic at the time, but boy that would’ve been a difference…

  • mko

    In hindsight, signing Damon would have been the much better decision, of course. But when looking at the stats, the decision didn’t look so bad at the time, don’t you think?

    • mko

      Let me revise my own statement – when looking at neutralized stats and including runs created and stolen bases in the equation, Damon looked much better prior to 2002. And he was younger.

      • Joe

        It was also clear even by that point that Damon was far more durable too.

  • Matt ’09

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, I dunno if you can say for sure that all those ‘ifs’ would have worked.

    How do we know the Yanks even go up 3 – 0 on the Sox?

    I hate ‘what ifs’, cause it’s impossible to know what would have happened ‘if’.

    Kind of like in Back to the Future, with Marty’s picture of is siblings. You start changing history, and things are different.

    • http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/individual_player_postseason.jsp?c_id=nyy&playerID=121250&statType=2 Slugger27

      exactly… and i dont have the numbers in front of me, but i remember it seemed like matsui hit a double every other at bad and had 4 hits in every game of that series… he wasnt the problem

      and until game 7, johnny damon was the easiest out in that lineup during the series… now of course one bad string of at bats in one alcs of his career shouldnt define him… but im just saying…

  • http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/individual_player_postseason.jsp?c_id=nyy&playerID=121250&statType=2 Slugger27

    while that signing would have worked out well, and clearly much better than rondell white, i think the yanks did pretty well with the matsui signing.

    looking at their numbers from 03-05, matsui looks better…

    damon has his advantages over matsui… hes great at the top of the order, hes a better defender, he steals more bases, and we would have been able to slide soriano to the 5 hole which suits him better

    but to say this is one of the bigger mistakes of the decade i have to disagree with… clearly damon is more valuable to the team now than matsui is, but from 03-05 its hard to make that argument…

    a mistake perhaps, but i think its a small one… the yanks have made their share of mistakes in the past decade (farnsworth, igawa, wright, pavano, mondesi, quantril, etc) but this non-move i dont think compares to those

    • Matt ’09

      I agree with all of them except Pavano. Their was no way to know he was going to be as bad as he was. Remember that winter…a bunch of teams were in on Mr. Softie, including the Sox.

      • http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/individual_player_postseason.jsp?c_id=nyy&playerID=121250&statType=2 Slugger27

        it was still a mistake…. it financially hampered the team for 4 years… regardless of how many teams were courting him, the yankees were the ones that signed him, the yankees were the ones that immediately regretted it, and the yankees were the ones that endured the consequences of it

        but thats really besides the point i was trying to make… my point was that there are tons of moves that you can instantly think of over the past decade that were very bad moves by the yankees… not signing damon and getting matsui a year later certainly shouldnt be one of them

        • Matt ’09

          Ok, then yeah, I agree…..we just took different paths to get to the same place.

        • Raf

          i wouldnt go as far as saying the Pavano signing financially hampered the Yankees for his 4 years in pinstripes.

          • http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/individual_player_postseason.jsp?c_id=nyy&playerID=121250&statType=2 Slugger27

            they paid him 40 million dollars to throw 140 innings of 5 era baseball and like a 1.45 whip… thats basically throwing money down the toilet

            yes i know a lot of teams were after pavano, and yes i know 40 million dollars to the yankees isnt the same as 40 million dollars to most teams… but in no way shape or form can you say that wasnt a waste of money and/or a mistake that wasnt immediately regretted

            • Chris

              Of course it was a waste of money, but I don’t think there was a single deal that was impacted because or Pavano’s contract.

              • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

                Also, insurance covered most of the cost of Pavano’s deal. It never impacted the Yanks’ ability to spend more money.

                • http://pinstripealley.com Edwantsacracker

                  I sure hope Burnett’s contract has insurance on it too…

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

          But there’s no reason why they couldn’t sign Damon one year and then Matsui the next to play the other corner outfielder position. They had…Raul Mondesi?…in right, and Matsui shifted from center to left to come to the Yanks. He could easily have shifted from center to right if the Yanks had Damon in left and Bernie in center.

          • http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/individual_player_postseason.jsp?c_id=nyy&playerID=121250&statType=2 Slugger27

            good point ben… i didnt think about that

            in hindsight, damon in left, bernie in center, and matsui in right would have been much better than matsui in left, bernie in center, and karim garcia/raul mondesi in right

            under the scenario he plays left and matsui plays right, then yes that definitely was a mistake

            • Steve H

              That would make for the weakest armed OF in MLB history, yet still better than the alternative.

  • AndrewYF

    Why would the Yankees have signed Damon? Bernie was still in his prime, and I don’t think Damon would have chosen some lesser position on the Yanks than playing CF for the Sox. Oh, and the Yankees probably wouldn’t have signed Matsui.

    The Yankees were by far the worse team in 2004. It was a miracle they were even up 3-0. Their pitching was beyond awful. They were a soft team, much like 2008’s 100-win Angels.

    • Steve H

      Good point. There’s no guarantee Damon would have come here to shift to LF, regardless of his interest If he did, you can bet it would have taken way more money than he got from the Sox.

  • steve (different one)

    no, the mistakes were Sheffield over Vlad and Johnson over Beltran.

    this is a minor mistake.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Based on their respective production levels, Sheffield over Vlad wasn’t that big of a mistake, and if Humberto Sanchez pans out as even a good 8th inning guy, Sheffield was probably a better choice.

      • andrew

        Vlad put up better numbers (slightly) than Sheffield over the course of Sheffield’s tenure in NY, and one could argue that Vlad wouldve been a better long term deal, but we got Abreu for basically nothing and he put up numbers slightly below Vlad’s as well. If Humberto turns out to be a contributor for the Yankees then you can say that going after Sheffield ending up panning out. But until then, I think Vlad’s production (and for a few years, upgraded defense) would’ve been a better call.

    • Steve H

      Getting Javy Vasquez turned into a mistake as it directly led the Schilling on the Sox. The Sox wanted Vasquez and ended up with Schilling as their consolation prize. At lease their Pavano consolation prize was Matt Clement.

      • mko

        Well, Schilling definitely was a great pitcher. But after many of his comments I’d have to conclude that he is an idiot. Of course you tend to accept that when he pitches well for your team. But still…

    • Yank Crank

      Don’t forget when they preferred to keep Nick Johnson over David Ortiz! Talk about history changing if we got that one right…

  • Rich

    If Torre isn’t shading the truth as he does in other parts of his book, score one for him .

  • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

    Speaking of signing corner OFs:

    Braves Sign Garret Anderson:


    • Yank Crank

      That’s great news for Nick Swisher fans. I’m certainly happy.

      • Rich

        I think Nady was/is more likely to be traded.

      • Mike Pop

        Nice, we keep 4 outfielders plus Melky. Need that depth.

  • ChrisS

    Joe Torre wanted Damon in 2002? The same guy that trotted out the corpse of Bernie Williams to play CF in 2005 and as a DH in ’06? Bernie Williams, the guy who still hasn’t officially retired because he still thinks he can play CF?

    Sure, I buy it [/sarcasm]. Torre lobbied to sign Damon, the best CFer on the market, and Bernie would have been more than happy to slide to LF (or Damon to slide to LF).

    I have a hard enough time believing the above situation happening, and that’s not even getting into the other if’s in the post.

    • ChrisS

      scratch that, Damon played a lot of LF, but I still don’t see him turning down the Sox CF position to play LF for the Yankees.

  • http://newstadiuminsider.blogspot.com/2009/01/tear-old-dump-down-its-for-kids.html Ross (NewStadiumInsider.com)

    “Grit-inspired book”

    I couldn’t have described it better myself – as a matter of fact, I was planning on making a post about it as soon as I complete the book. Baseball Prospectus 2009 bumped it down on the depth chart, along with an advance copy of a book called “The Truth About Ruth.” Anyway, I digress – the whole Torre book is about grit and chemistry instead of baseball.

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  • http://Johnnyboy5 Johnny

    The fact of the matter is even if the yankees signed Johnny Damon they may not have been up 3-0 because Damon had a poor ALCS up until game 5 and as far as the yankees keeping Nick Johnson instead of gettin Ortiz who would want to have done that up until Ortiz went to Boston he sucked I actually believe he juiced if you look at early pictures of him when he came up as a shortstop he was a skinny guy and his injuries of late send up a red flag also but it may have been hitting infront of Manny who knows we will find out this year if he could do it without Manny behind him.

  • JeremyM

    I’m honestly stunned by how boring the Torre book is, and the fact that every single thing that went wrong with the Yankees was not his fault, but the fault of the front office and the players they brought in. It’s funny, there’s a part about how the 1998 Yankees were the best because they showed up and played and he didn’t really have to do much. And when he did have to do something, the players weren’t gamers/clutch etc. The book is really bad, frankly, and does not present a compelling case that he should still manage the club- anything but, in fact.

  • http://myspace.com/lincolnsworld Link

    I do believe it is a bit of revisionist history here, the only benefit to the Yankees signing Damon, or obtaining Schilling or Ortiz (who I also agree juiced) is that it would have kept the Sawx from becoming what they became. I still have Nam-like flashbacks of Damon hitting that Game 7 GS, that was just awful…

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  • http://www.ticketpoint.de/fluege-thailand.html Flüge Thailand

    You can’t be sure it would have worked out like this. Of course, it could be, but I’ve seen so many good players suck in teams, they can’t work with to assume that he would have been as good as he is now, if he would have signed for a different team.
    That aside, I agree, that not getting him was a big mistake. It’s one of the times, when fate bites back.